Century Marks

Century Marks

Mind blowing

In a famous medical case of the 19th century, Phineas Gage, a railroad worker, prematurely set off a charge. The blast sent a tamping iron through his cheek and out the top of his head, damaging his frontal cortex. Gage maintained all his intellectual capacities, but he was no longer able to control his own actions. His doctor said, “Gage was no longer Gage.” Philosopher Nancey Murphy says that this case is a clear indication that morality and prudence are functions located in a part of the brain, not lodged in the “soul.” This case, and others like it, raise questions for neuroscientists and philosophers about moral responsibility and personal identity (Interpretation, January).

Textbook case

Palestinian textbooks have long been criticized for demonizing Israelis and even calling Jews pigs. A recent study of textbooks for Palestinians, Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel concluded that though textbooks of both sides are one-sided, demonization of others is rare in any of them. The most extreme examples of a negative bias were found in the ultra-Orthodox textbooks. Both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks avoid acknowledging the existence of the other’s territory. Only 4 percent of Palestinian textbooks show the green line, which separates their territory in the West Bank from Israel. On the other side, 76 percent of Israeli textbooks fail to label the Palestinian territories and show no boundaries between Israel and Palestine. Bruce Wexler of Yale, who led the study, said: “The idea of maps is to represent reality; here it represents fantasy.” The study was sponsored by the U.S. State Department (Guardian, February 3).


The success of the chess team at Brooklyn’s Intermediate School 318 demolishes the notion that chess is a game of the privileged. Last year the middle school’s team won the national high school championship, beating players who were as much as four years older. More than half the students at IS-318 come from families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Carlos Tapia is a typical player on the team. His Mexican-American parents don’t know how to play chess. Despite the team’s accomplishments, funding for extracurricular activities at the school is drying up (Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 30).


The Amish, like many Protestants, have blamed the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus. As pacifists, they haven’t been supportive of Israel, regarding Israel as an aggressive and militant state. A group of 31 Amish from the United States and Canada recently visited Israel to express their regrets for these positions. In a statement the delegation said: “We, the Amish and Anabaptist people, turned away from the Jewish nation while they were in their darkest hour of need. We hardened our hearts against them, we left them—never lifting our voices in protest against the atrocities that were committed against them. We want to publicly repent of this and acknowledge our support of Israel.” The group attracted attention by singing hymns at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (Jerusalem Post, February 11).

Food for thought

When Pastor Alois Bell’s group was hit with a mandatory 18 percent service charge in an Applebee’s restaurant in St. Louis, she wrote a biting note on the receipt: “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18%?” When the waitress posted the receipt online, it went viral. Bell later said that writing the note showed a lapse in judgment, but she complained to the restaurant about the unwanted publicity given to her and her church. Applebee’s fired the waitress. Shocked by her dismissal, the waitress said: “I come home exhausted, sore, burnt, dirty, and blistered on a good day. And after all that, I can be fired for ‘embarrassing’ someone who directly insults their server on religious grounds” (Christian Science Monitor, February 1).